I met her while accompanying a religious Sister to a Communion call at the home of one family in a village outside the city of Arusha in Tanzania. As we were all about to pray before Communion, the little girl in that family asked the Sister if she could hold the missionary’s hand. Placing her cold little hand in my hot sweaty one (with temperatures so high, one should naturally have hot hands), I could feel her squeeze my hand during the Our Father, causing me to open one eye to take a peek at her precious little face, leaving me with a feeling that I was looking at a living angel.
The little girl walked beside me to receive Communion. And, as we approached the altar, she took my hand again, asking if she could receive Jesus with me. She looked at me and said, “I hope that one day I can receive the same strength that Jesus has given to you.”
There were hundreds of children outside in that village that day – running, playing and giggling – but this little girl was not with them. Sitting in a chair covered up with a few blankets as if it were cold outside, she was far too frail and weak to even get up and greet us when Sister and I first arrived. Being born premature and malnourished, along with having the lack of a health care system, she suffered many illnesses since birth, and was especially vulnerable to infections. Her parents considered her a miracle, and told us that when she receives Communion, it is as if her frail little body gains some type of inner strength. For them, this strength was a gift from God that they would cherish as long as God would allow them.
The Communion call to that family’s house took longer than our others that day, as we devoted extra time to the little girl. All she wanted was to hear stories about America. Amazingly, as we were about to leave, she somehow managed the strength to get up from her chair to give me a hug. As I bent down to her, staring into her eyes, I could see them building up with water. As her tears ran down her face, she said to me: “Missionary, please pray for me. I want to see you again someday.” Leaving her home I could not show her my true emotions. I could not let her see my eyes as a mirror reflection of hers. I needed to be strong, for her. We both needed the strength from the Communion that we received that day.
Weeks later I received word that that little girl was given the strength for which she prayed so deeply. It was not the strength that I had initially assumed she was hoping and praying to receive. The strength that this young girl so desperately needed was the courage to go home to her dear sweet Jesus in heaven.
Later this year, in September, there will be the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, Hungary, celebrating the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. All through this New Year leading to that, and in the months and years to follow, I will continue to draw strength from the Lord’s gift of Himself in the Eucharist. And I will remember also my encounter with a little girl in the missions of Africa, and the “presence” of Jesus in her witness.
Yours in Christ,
“Hol(l)y Headlines!” ~ a bit of a play on words ~ is an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" call to build missionary momentum as part of our ongoing effort to educate and motivate the next generation of the Catholic Church's missionaries. The blog's author, Holly Benner, is National Coordinator for the Missionary Childhood Association. She's also the mission education coordinator in her home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She has a passion for the missions and experience in making mission real at the diocesan level. For 10 years, Holly traveled frequently to Africa as president of a faith-based non-profit that she founded, one focused on developing sustainable water resources among poor communities.
For a New Year of Good Health...
According to the World Health Organization, children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 14 times likely to die before the age of 5 than children in developed regions. Religious Sisters, priests and lay pastoral leaders in the Mission Church are trying to change that. Learn more about what they're doing in Africa and throughout the Pope's missions on MISSIO.